Archeology and patriotism: long term Chinese strategies in the South China Sea
Southeast Asia Sea conference, Ateneo Law Center, Makati, March 27 2015
Several authors writing about the Chinese claim to the Paracel Islands have dated the first official Chinese expedition to these islands to 1902. However, none of these writers have been able to show any records of this expedition taking place. In fact, Chinese records show that the expedition never happened. Instead, a secret expedition took place decades later to plant false archaeological evidence on the islands in order to bolster China’s territorial claim. The same strategy has been applied in the Spratly islands: the sovereignty markers of 1946 had been placed, in fact, ten years later, in 1956.
Professor Marwyn Samuels, in his well-known book “Contest for the South China Sea” admonished western scholars who dated the first Chinese expedition to the Paracels to 1909. Instead, he asserted that the first expedition took place in 1902. According to Samuels, this first inspection tour was directed by Admiral Li Chun and was the first attempt to implement the 1887 convention between France and China, asserting the rights of China over these islands. Since the publication of Samuels’ seminal work, it hasbecome conventional to refer to this “indisputable” fact in books and articles concerning the dispute in the South China Sea. Nevertheless, none of the subsequent writers have been able to substantiate this assertion.
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This article was originally posted at The Institute for Maritime and Ocean Affairs: www.imoa.ph .